It would be tough to argue that the best conference in college basketball in recent memory is not the Big East. The massive 16-team league (which will† add Texas Christian University in 2012) always sends an absurd amount of teams to the NCAA Tournament, with teams like Villanova University, Georgetown University, Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh consistently appearing at the top of the rankings during the season.
The second-best conference has changed, however. For most of the decade the Atlantic Coast Conference has been in competition for the best in the country. Duke University and the University of North Carolina are two of the biggest names in the sport, and have won the last two national championships, but the conference as a whole has gone downhill quickly. The North Carolina team that won the 2009 championship graduated all of its key players and has not recovered. Duke has one of the best programs in the nation, but teams like the University of Maryland and Wake Forest University are far from where they were in the latter part of the last decade. Duke is the only team ranked in both polls, with Florida State University being ranked 22nd in the Associated Press poll.
The rising power conference in the NCAA right now is the Big Ten. The Ohio State University is the top-ranked team in the country currently in both polls. Michigan State University is having a down year right now, but come March they should show the form that brought them six Final Fours in the last 12 years. Purdue University is hot despite losing star forward Robbie Hummel for the season due to an ACL tear. The University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin can take on any team in the nation. Even lowly Penn State University has one of the most underrated players in the country, Talor Battle. The Big Ten has six teams ranked in the AP poll right now ñ only one less than the Big East. While other conferences are top-heavy (like the ACC), the Big Ten is unmatched in terms of depth.
But as the Big Ten sadly learned in football, conference supremacy is measured by postseason success. Although the conference has done well in terms of sending teams to the tournament in recent years, the only team to make it past the Sweet 16 in either of the last two seasons is Michigan State. It helps that the Spartans are led by arguably the best tournament coach of his generation in Tom Izzo, but it’s up to great regular season coaches like The Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Purdue’s Matt Painter to push their teams over the top. And if there is any year is perfect for that to finally happen, it’s this one.